Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nothing like the oboe...

...to knock you out of Oboe Angst. Recently I've felt entirely unhappy with my time management, reed making, playing abilities, and musicality. However, a good practice session, helpful lesson, orchestra rehearsal and a successful masterclass shook me right out of it. Thank goodness.

Last night in masterclass I played the first page of Gillet etude 20, which was quite a kick of adrenaline. I was pretty pleased with how it went, especially since I was actually able to play it through twice. The first time my nerves really got the better of me, but the second time I was able to be expressive, and not too pinched on the high notes, and really emphasize and be musical at the spots where I wanted to be rubato. So all in all, a success. I actually played last week in masterclass as well, the first two of the slow movement excerpts from Beethoven 3. Those went very well- they're some of my absolute favorite excerpts, and I try to be incredibly sensitive to the mood of the movement and express all of the little changes. I got a compliment from one of the other oboists on being appropriately gloomy, and really evoking that the movement is a funeral march, which was lovely, but a little bit funny to me. I've never had a problem with not being melancholy enough in those excerpts; I actually tend to get too bogged down in it and have trouble sticking around the proper tempo.

We're doing the excerpts out of John Ferrillo's book, though, and I think that having the piano play along with you on excerpts is actually incredibly helpful, both for the person performing and for those listening. I find that I am frequently guilty of not really knowing how my part fits in to the orchestra as a whole.

Yesterday I also finally had orchestra again- all of last week my orchestra only rehearsed Tchaik 6, and I'm playing 2nd in two excerpts from Tchaik's Eugene Onegin, and 1st in Tchaik's Rococo Variations instead. I appreciate the need, but, well, I was already jealous of the people playing the symphony, and then to not have orchestra for a week! Plus, we have a concert next Wednesday, and this was the first rehearsal for two of those three pieces. Unfortunately, Rococo Variations was one of those two, and yesterday was also our first rehearsal with the soloist for the piece. And our first rehearsal with the student conductor who's conducting it. It was a bit nerve-wracking all around, but tomorrow's rehearsal will be much better. Still, it struck me as a bit unprofessional, and rude as well, to not have even looked at the piece as a group before bringing in the soloist.

My classes have in general been entirely boring and uninteresting. However, we did have one thought-provoking article for my music history class, "The Good, the Bad, and the Boring," by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson.
Honestly, it made me furious. Here's why:

"But it is hard to see what can be the purpose of musicology if not to advise people on what to hear and how to hear it."

"...the work of "primitives"- composers deliberately ignoring mainstream compositional principles in favor of something equally consistent but less refined."

"[A good piece]...stretches established notions of good style just far enough to be recognizably new, without going so far beyond the norm as to alienate the listener."

My comments to that are pretty much that the second quote there has invalidated, to me, any point that this author ever has made or will make in the future. Yes, because the purpose of analyzing literature is to make sure that nobody ever reads pulp fiction, the avant garde isn't real art, and anything that doesn't conform to the exact bounds of mainstream Western-European art music is "primitive".

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the class, we couldn't really have a good discussion about the article.

In my lessons, I've mostly been working on reeds. While I find my teacher's method of reed making very easy to follow when he is demonstrating, and I absolutely love the results, I find it both very difficult to duplicate and very difficult to completely ignore when making my own reeds. As a result, I've been spending a really large amount of time on reeds recently and been quite frustrated about my results. However, my teacher's comments have been getting more and more positive, so at least I'm improving. I'm confident that eventually it will all start working together, rather than at cross purposes. We've also been working on reeds because I've had to make reeds for oboe d'amore, and also started making English horn reeds. While I was incredibly frustrated by my d'amore reeds, which my teacher helpfully rescued for me, I have to say that I was blown away by how easy it was to get a functional English horn reed. Now I just have to make a functional English horn reed that doesn't leak copiously. :-)

I'll fill you in on all of the d'amore goings on on Friday, after our workshop performance of excerpts of the Bach B-minor Mass, but I will put up a link here to some pictures showing off the school's d'amore and some rough recordings, for anyone who's never heard a d'amore, to give a feeling of the difference between it, oboe, and English horn.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Six things about me:

Patty (www.oboeinsight.com) tagged me to post "to write six things about me, personally, that my readers might not know."

1. I hate mayonnaise with a burning passion.
2. I lived in Germany for two years.
3. I have very long hair. I wish it were a dark reddish-brown, but it's actually a sort of generic very dark blonde/light brown color.
4. I'm absolutely crazy about fantasy and some sci-fi, both books and tv. Some favorites include
Robin McKinley, Buffy, Neil Gaiman, Doctor Who, etc.
5. My favorite color is jewel tone red, and I like to dress my bedroom up like I live in a Pre-Raphaelite castle.
6. I collect elephants. I have absolutely no idea how or why this started, other than the fact that I made a stuffed elephant in 8th grade Home Ec.

I would have posted this sooner, but my sister came to visit me this weekend, and was able to switch her flight to one five hours earlier than her original one. While this was very nice, and much more convenient, it meant that many things I'd planned for Friday afternoon did not get done. She was here until Tuesday, and I've been catching up on things Tuesday afternoon and today. I do have a post to make about my first (surprise) Bach rehearsal, and playing on masterclass on Monday, but it will have to wait. If I go to bed now, I have time to practice before class tomorrow. :-)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A whirlwind of a week (and a half)

Last Sunday I got sick, last Tuesday I started working at my non-music job (I do research for a company that creates websites), then I had to run around like crazy to get all of my homework done because my cousin came on Friday to visit me over her fall break, and left on this Tuesday, the day of our first orchestra concert.

On top of that, I've been under the impression from Friday until about 15 minutes ago that I had a rehearsal today on oboe d'amore (I'm playing in the Bach B minor mass), so I've given myself a crash course in making d'amore reeds. I'm glad that I have some more time to get my reeds polished, because I really like to make good impressions on new conductors but I also feel a bit cheated.

Last Monday we had our first "real" oboe masterclass (since the first was mostly an oboe petting zoo), and I played part of the Strauss concerto. From rehearsal 9 to rehearsal 17, to be precise, which is the B theme and recap in the first movement. I felt absolutely dreadful, but I was fairly happy with how I played. I need to work on not playing the 32nd note runs too fast. They turn into lazy glissandos in which you can't hear individual notes. I also need to work on bringing the high notes into the phrase. I'm pretty happy with the bell-tone sort of sound I'm getting on them, but they don't connect across the bar.

I also have my lessons on Monday. I'm not thrilled about that, because Mondays are by far my busiest day (I have my first class starting at 9 AM (8 if I go and practice, which I have been) and my last ends at 9 PM), but my lessons have been going pretty well. The last two we haven't been working on reeds, which I prefer, since while I love my prof's reeds I haven't been able to make reeds anything like them on my own, and instead we've been working on the Strauss: the portion I played in class, and the second movement. He has a computer program (I believe called Smart Music) which plays a piano accompaniment along with you, with a huge list of repertoire. It doesn't follow your tempo changes generally, but it does wait at ritards and cadenzas and the like. Plus, because it doesn't follow you, it really gives you a chance to pay attention to the accompaniment while you're playing without having to worry about leading. Obviously that has some negative aspects, but it's nice to do a few times. I've also been working on a Gillet, which I'm trying to get musical and melodic, without losing my fingers. My prof wants me to prepare it for a masterclass, but I'm not sure I'll be able to get that comfortable with it. I suppose I did play one for my auditions, though.

On Sunday I met for the first time with my woodwind quintet, which was fun. We just read through a few pieces (Neilsen, Ibert, and one other I've forgotten), but the others are all really fantastic players, and we'll be able to do a lot together. We have another rehearsal on Friday, so we'll get to do a little bit more work.

Last night, then, we had the first Philharmonia concert, which was both the gala concert opening CCM's season (with $150 seats and a champagne intermission to accompany them) and the start of our Tchaikovsky festival. It was incredible.

I was up in the balcony for the first piece, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto 1, and when the piece opened I was struck by so many things. That sound was coming from from the group I play in. That's what we sound like. I get caught up in being busy, and frustrated with classes, or reeds, or my fingers, or any other number of little things, and I forget that I'm here, I've made it this far. And while there's so much farther to go, this is my dream, and exactly what I want to be doing with my life. I don't know how to express it in words, exactly, but it was an intense moment, both the music and that on top of it. That sort of sigh exhale where your hands come up over your mouth.The pianist was fantastic. She's a student here, either masters or doctoral, and she played beautifully. She was confident, polished, and musical, and managed to lead the orchestra exactly where she wanted to go. It was perhaps the first solo I've heard that made me think "Wow. I want to do that, to play with an orchestra as well as just in one." It was inspiring.
Romeo and Juliet was the best we've played it, and I know that if it wasn't my personal best it was at least very close. It's a woodwind heavy piece, between the opening chorale, small passages throughout, the large melody section in the middle, and the closing chorale, and we managed to be very well in tune with each other. And we played our hearts out. While 1812 wasn't consistently the best we've played it, the end was certainly powerful, in the way that 1812 is, and the opening cello chorale was beautiful and intense. At that point there was nothing to save ourselves for, and we ended with a bang. Literally, since they had cannons rigged to shoot confetti into the audience at the end of the piece. Plus, we had an approximately 20 person brass choir standing in the aisles of the auditorium for the last section of the piece.The intermission was interminable, and the stage was boiling hot, but the concert was such a wonderful experience. I realize a lot of my reaction was because I hadn't had a concert since the middle of April, but I was very pleased with both myself and the orchestra.

Oh, I also was able to go hear a concert by the Cincinnati Symphony. They did Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and Shostakovich's 8th Symphony, which I'd never actually heard all of before. It was very good, though there were some odd acoustics issues. However, I was on the floor, rather than in the balcony, so perhaps some of it was just my seat. I also don't approve of their concert dress, which is white tie and tails for the men, and either all black or black skirt/pants and jacket with a white shirt for the women. It tends to look very uneven in terms of level of formality, since the women have much more lee-way in their dress and the men are wearing the most formal outfit possible. Still, that's not particularly relevent to their playing, which was really great.

My next projects, other than learning my new orchestra and quintet music, are to make some English horn reeds, and finish my d'amore reeds. I ordered some gouged and shaped EH cane staples, so I'm going to see what I can work up. Although my d'amore reeds (which, for those who don't know, can conveniently be made with oboe cane and a d'amore shaper) aren't finished, I'm hopeful that they will turn out well. And if not, I now have much more time before I need them for a rehearsal.

Plus, now that my schedule, with me now working and all, has settled down, I'm going to try to regularize my practice schedule. I'm not getting as much done as I need to be, and I want to be able to play the Gillet in my next lesson. (The fact that my reeds seem to have settled down a bit- knock on wood- after having returned to my own way of scraping will help with this too. There was a while there where I felt that every spare moment I had was spent merely trying to get reeds I could play on.) I also need to find an EH piece to work on. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"If we play those measures any faster, the strings' arms will fall off.

There're more of them. And they'll come and get you." So says my orchestra conductor.

Orchestra continues to be fantastic, though unfortunately I don't get to play in Tchaik's Symphony 6. I'm amazed by the quality of the strings, though of course I shouldn't be. We're playing Romeo and Juliet, which you may know has intense, fast, bowed scale runs, and the entire string section can play them cleanly and together with each other. This compared to my previous orchestra's strings, who tried their hardest, but, well, hardly any of them were music majors.

It's still intimidating to be playing first, if only for the counting issue; there's much less chance to follow on entrances, and no-one to blame except myself if I screw up. However, I think that playing first in this orchestra is one of the best things musically to happen to me in a long time. The conductor is really pushing me to be more expressive, more expansive, more exaggerated, and just more audible as well. And of course I'm also being pushed by the rest of the woodwind section, who are very talented. The bassoons in particular are wonderful to sit in front of.

In my lesson this Monday I once again didn't play a note and we worked on reeds. My teacher makes reeds which are wildly different from mine, much shorter and with a longer, more defined tip and a stronger spine, and while I love the way his reeds sound, and play, in trying to make my reeds like his I'm about zero for 15. So I'm temporarily reverting to my normal reeds in order to fill up my box and give me something to play on in orchestra. (He also makes reeds using completely different steps, which compounds the problem. His first scrapes are very concentrated on the tip, which he gets to the point of clearly playing a c before taking more than just the bark and a few brief strokes off of anything else. I like to get my heart and back started before concentrating too much on the tip.)

I did manage to get music to prepare for my next lesson, though. I'm going to go through Barret from more of a teacher's perspective, and keep working on Gillet. Plus, I'm working up the Rathbun duet with another girl in the studio, playing the second part, and preparing part of the Strauss Concerto for next Monday's masterclass.

This past Monday, we had a presentation on the making of Fossati oboes, and got to both hear and try out seven different Fossati oboes. Coming from a Howarth perspective, I found most of them even more extreme than Lorees in terms of sounding narrow and bright, and feeling very resistant. There were a couple that were more open, but I have to admit that I wasn't thrilled with any of them. I did also try the oboe of the girl I'm playing duets with, which I really loved. It was a Loree, but a little bit older (unfortunately I don't remember the serial number), and felt very dark and open, yet controlled. Really lovely. I also introduced her to the trick of switching bells on oboes- I discovered summer before last that a great deal of an oboe's sound is in the bell, and that if you play another oboe with your bell on it, it will sound very close to your own oboe.

I ended up dropping my Broadway class, not because of the amount of work or time it required per se, but because of that time and work didn't fit well with my required schedule. I was really sad to give the class up, since it was my only discussion class, and on a topic I find really interesting, but the professor is letting me stop by his office and pick up all of the articles which he hands out to the class. So I'll still get to read analysis of Les Mis and Superstar, even if I won't get to discuss it.

In terms of my other classes, I've had two of the three of them cancelled in the past two days. History and theory continue to be pretty basic, and I haven't really had a class of piano yet. I think the most frustrating thing about classes, actually, is the lack of discussion, as there's no room for me to argue with the professor. :-)